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13 Features, 9 Shorts Fill Laguna Fest


The Laguna Beach Film Festival '98, which opens today and runs through Sunday, won't be rolling out the red carpet for any glamorous Hollywood stars to walk the walk and talk the talk. Nor will it have Roger Ebert or Gene Siskel in black tie or Joan Rivers in a designer dress or even a crew from "Entertainment Tonight" chatting up the usual suspects.

But you will find 13 feature films and nine short films, along with a few familiar faces on the screen.

Tonight at 7, Miramax will sneak "Wide Awake" (starring Rosie O'Donnell and Dana Delany), at the Forum Theatre on the Festival of Arts grounds, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, where all the movies will be screened. It's billed as a family film in which "10-year-old Joshua embarks on a search for the answers to life and death after his beloved grandfather dies." If Josh discovers those answers, I wish he'd let me know. Miramax guarantees that he'll find "laughter, growth and a few life lessons along the way." $7. (714) 497-2787. Tickets available in advance at the Laguna Playhouse box office next door. Limited tickets at the Forum before each show.

Friday at 6:30 p.m., the festival will screen "Just Write," a romantic comedy about a Hollywood tour-bus driver posing as a screenwriter to impress an actress. It stars Jeremy Piven (of "Ellen") and Sherilyn Fenn (of "Twin Peaks"). $7. Also, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., the festival will host an opening-night benefit party presented by the Exchange Club, a charitable organization. Several directors, producers and actors whose movies are entered in the competition will attend. $50.

Saturday's lineup begins at 10 a.m. with "Memories Do Not Burn," a short documentary about refugee children from the former Yugoslavia, narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. "Where the Air Is Cool and Dark" follows at 10:30 a.m. It's a feature-length film about the rootless life of loggers in the Pacific Northwest and a recovering drug addict's struggle to fit in. (Mature themes). $7. For a complete festival listing: (714) 494-1313.

Competition judges are Robert Miller (producer of "The Crucible"); Kip Konwiser (producer of "Miss Evers' Boys"); Jon McIntyre (producer and former manager of the Grateful Dead), and Richard Ferncase and Juli Gottlieb (of Chapman University's School of Film and Television). Top picks will be announced at a closing party Sunday, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach. $20.


A film festival also gets underway Friday at the Port Theatre, 2905 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar: "General Chaos: Uncensored Animation," comprising 20 short animated films--all anarchic in spirit--and the 1996 animation Academy Award winner, "Quest." $7 (for the 1 1/2-hour compilation; no one under 18 admitted). (714) 673-6260.

"Quest," made by German film-maker Tyron Montgomery, is stop-motion, puppet-animation. It follows the adventures of a nameless, faceless figure made of earth who goes in search of water, which slips incessantly just beyond his reach. More fascinating than the figure itself are the surreal wormholes it keeps falling through. It becomes a nonlinear descent from the pale, shifting surfaces of an exterior world to the dark, threatening interior of a mechanized universe.

Another short, "The Saint Inspector," has wracked up an armload of awards at film festivals from Chicago to Ireland over the last two years. This compilation, on its second stop of a California tour, represents the commercial U.S. release of "Inspector." Made by British animator Mike Booth, it's quirky, sophisticated, brooding and scintillating. In a heavenly bureaucracy of some sort--well, it's in the clouds, anyway--Buddha-like figures sit in a state of bliss as far as the eye can see. One of them gets an unusual examination by a meddling official.

Still more shorts include "Malice in Wonderland," "American Flatulators," "Junky," "Beat the Meatles," "Oh Julie!" "Killing Heinz," "Donor Party," "Espresso Depresso," "The Perfect Man: Performance Art Starring Chainsaw Bob" and Bill Plympton's "Sex and Violence." The titles, incidentally, are mild indications of the content. R. Crumb would more than likely get a kick out of this show.

Also at the Port Saturday and Sunday, at noon: "Around the World in 80 Days," the 1956 Oscar winner for best picture starring more big names than it knows what to do with: David Niven, Shirley MacLaine, Buster Keaton, Marlene Dietrich and, of course, Mexican actor Cantinflas, the real star of the show (except for the balloon).


Elsewhere in Orange County:

* Salvo Luther's "Forget Mozart" (1986), about the life, times and passions of the composer, will screen Friday, 7 p.m. at Saddleback College, Science/Math Building, Room 313 (28000 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo). Free. (714) 582-4788.

* Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov's "Anna" (1996) will screen Friday,, 7 and 9 p.m., at the UC Irvine Student Center, Crystal Cove Auditorium, Pereira and West Peltason roads. $2.50-$4.50. (714) 824-5588.

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